Can EAC win the war on illegal ivory trade?


James Karuhanga, The New Times

Date Published

When the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) resumes its ordinary
sitting in Arusha, Tanzania, next week, MPs will pour over a report on
the House’s oversight activities on poaching in the region.

A report by the standing Committee on Agriculture, Tourism and
Wildlife is not yet out but recent indications point to a disturbing
wave of ivory smuggling, bringing to question the efficacy of regional
efforts to curtail the crime.

Despite some considerable progress following the first-ever regional
anti-illicit trade conference, in 2010, the East African Business
Council (EABC) acknowledged that a lot “remains to be done to win the
fight against illicit trade.”

The term, illicit trade, broadly comprises both the trade in illegal
goods and services, as well as instances where normally legal goods
are traded illegally, affecting all aspects of global social and
economic lives.

Recently Rwanda National Police (RNP) revealed it was holding and
investigating 10 people, including four Guinea-Conakry nationals,
arrested as they attempted to traffic elephant tusks through the

According to the Deputy Commissioner for Public Relations and Media,
Chief Superintendent of Police Lynder Nkuranga, the suspects were
arrested “separately” with about 80 kilogrammes of partially processed
Ivory, as they attempted to use Rwanda as a transit route to Asia.

Reports indicate that three-quarters of illegal ivory makes its way to
China, while Vietnam is the largest market for rhino horn.

CSP Nkuranga says preliminary investigations indicate that the tusks
were smuggled from Tanzania, although the suspects claim that they got
them from the DR Congo.

“Rwanda can’t be a transit or destination for illegal trade or safe
haven for criminals,” Nkuranga said.

“We have a mandate under both local and international legal
instruments, to protect the world’s elephant population and wildlife
in general; Rwanda National Police is committed to implementing these
legal tools and it is part of the RNP’s international cooperation to
fight cross-border crimes.”

In March, Rwandan courts sentenced three Guineans and a Rwandan to six
years in jail for trafficking nearly 88kgs of ivory.

That same month, nearly 4,000kgs of ivory were seized in Uganda.

Earlier this week, media reports from Uganda indicated that Rwandan
businessman, Emile Kayumba, was remanded to Uganda’s Luzira prison in
connection with illegal dealing in ivory.

Without a common EAC zero-tolerance approach, however, the future of
the region’s elephants and its tourism industry are insecure. The
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
estimates that EAC governments lose over $500 million annually in tax
revenues due to the influx of counterfeit and pirated products.

This figure does not include several other forms of illicit trade,
otherwise, total tax revenue losses from illicit trade would be

Uganda loses an equivalent of $1.4 billion – almost 5.5 per cent of
its GDP – with Tanzania estimated to lose about $1.5 billion in
revenue to counterfeits.

The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) estimates a loss of more
than $500 million to illicit trade and its estimated government loses
more than $350 million.

In April, Kenya burned 105 tons of ivory – the largest-ever ivory burn
– and 1.35 tons of rhino horn in public show of the country’s
determined intent to eradicate poaching.

In April, a nonprofit group Okoa Tembo wa Tanzania (Save Tanzania’s
Elephants) published a letter signed by 30 influential Tanzanians
demanding the destruction of all ivory stockpiles.

Okoa Tembo wa Tanzania is campaigning for three specific government
actions for the protection of elephants: including the arrest and
prosecution of the major ivory traders in EAC’s biggest country, and
to use the country’s historic friendship with China to end the
latter’s domestic ivory trade as “a matter of urgency.”

Tanzania reportedly has vast warehouse stores with thousands of tusks
accumulated over the last two decades, holding more than 90 metric
tons valued at over $50 million. The country is said to have lost
around 85,000 elephants to poaching between 2009 and 2014.

Asian criminal gangs reportedly conspire with corrupt regional
officials to traffic vast quantities of ivory and, the trading is
reportedly so pervasive it even involves high-level diplomatic visits.

An investigation by a Swiss anti-organised crime watchdog says
officials attached to the North Korean embassies in southern Africa
were taking advantage of their immunities to ferry illegal ivory,
rhino horn and other banned wildlife goods, and may have passed
through ports in Kenya and Ethiopia.

The July 2016 report, “Beyond Borders: Crime, conservation and
criminal networks in the illicit rhino horn trade,” indicates that
“diplomatic bags”, which are legally immune from scrutiny, are the
mode of choice.

Among others, the reports says that in May, a Vietnamese national was
detained at Maputo Airport before he could board a Kenya Airways
flight to Nairobi with 22.4kg of rhino horn stuffed in his bags.